“Tonight in your dreams you must look at your hands.”
Carlos Castaneda

Journey to Ixtlan

Yoga & Change

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I would like to revisit a topic I have addressed in the past – about how change occurs through Yoga. Change has resurfaced in my consciousness over the past few weeks and this morning I read a passage from a book by Carlos Castaneda which caused a crystallization of my thoughts:

… the island of the tonal was complete and not a single element of it could be removed. Change, then, did not mean obliterating anything but rather altering the unassigned to those elements.

I would offer, as a temporary agreement, that Castaneda’s “tonal” is a concept of all that mind can know & comprehend.

Yoga offers an idea of Samskara. One could say that a Samskara is a whole impression created & left-behind by experience. This includes a sense of memory, feelings, thoughts, energies, etc. I see it as an endless rippling effect. Every experience continues, one way or another, to resonate within – eternally. This happens regardless of facilities of consciousness and memory. A Samskara exists if I am aware of it or not, if I remember it or not. It is also something which cannot be removed – experience cannot be undone. An experience may fade from memory, but a Samskara remains.

Yoga also offers an idea of Vasana. Vasana is a potential for behavior – I think of it as a starting point, triggering mechanism and anchor. Vasana are sown in fields of Samskara and are related to them. I carry many Samskara’s that relate to money and to the potential absence of it. These Samskara are home to a number of Vasana: one that triggers worry, another to which fear is anchored and another that starts a hunting-gathering pattern. Each Vasana is connected to a pattern of behavior and action. Worry is connected to impatience and anxiety. Fear is connected to self-pity and morbidity. Hunting is connected to an ambitious and achieving form of activity.

Consciousness is an intricate dance of these elements. Experience leads to Samskara. Samskara connect and relate to existing Vasana and & give birth to new ones. Vasana trigger action and behavior which then create new Samskara. This is an endless cycle is which consciousness evolves. It can be subtle and hidden and also gross and obvious.

With this model of consciousness Yoga suggests a sober & sensible mechanism of change. Since Samskara and Vasana are here to stay and there is no known surgical process for removing them, focus falls on a relationship between Vasana and action – and a bond that exists between them. To be even more specific, Yoga focuses on a nature of how this bond is created – and this is surprisingly simple – practice. We are constantly training our consciousness muscles – everything we do feeds this system of Samskara & Vasana. Every time I deal with my bank I am accumulating money-related Samskara, which trigger some rather unpleasant Vasana that lead to feelings of worry & guilt and ensuing behaviors which are unpleasant both to myself and others around me.

So, as boxers in a tight corner will do, Yoga embraces. It recognizes a potential of practice and training and utilizes that very facility – change begins by practicing and training new patterns of behavior. A Yoga teacher can call upon a very large set of tools which can be applied with endless subtle choices, elements & variants that are tailored to a practitioners needs. From my experience (as both a practitioner and a teacher) a practitioner will usually have access & grasp gross qualities of a practice and only in time grow aware of more subtle qualities (though she will be practicing both the gross and subtle) This can shed some light on benefits of practicing with guidance and supervision of a teacher.

When I practice Pranayama (a breathing practice) I sometimes encounter challenges. One example of a challenge is holding the breath after exhaling. I can hold my breath after inhaling using willpower for quite some time, but I cannot do this after exhaling. Holding in breath after exhaling is an experience of surrender. When my body (or maybe it’s my mind?) wants to draw in air instead of holding a bit longer – I experience difficulty, resistance and stubbornness. I want to assert control and forcibly hold my breath. I practice this over and over and make no progress until at some point I discover (or am introduced to) an alternative. How about surrender? What if I don’t hold my breath as long as I want to, but only as long as I can?

If I try this for a while my breathing practice changes. But not only my breathing practice changes – my consciousness changes. I am practicing and training subtle patterns – every time I encounter difficulty I am engaging embracing and surrender. If I practice this for effectively for a long enough timeĀ  – I can (a) establish new patterns of behavior and (b) associate these new patterns with existing Vasana.

So now when I encounter money-frustration Samskara which trigger related Vasana – there are new options of behavior and action available to me alongside older patterns. Money-frustration is still there and worry, fear & hunting triggers are still there but I have attached them to new patterns. Worry still comes, but I am less bound to dysfunctional patterns of behavior and able to emply new ones. I have options. I have created these options by practicing them as I have practiced older patterns that they have replaced.

For at least as long as I am breathing this cycle of consciouness continues and so can practices that support it.

“… a warrior could not avoid pain and grief but only the indulging in them”
(Carlos Castaneda from “Tales of Power”)

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